File image: Mosquito carrying Zika Virus - Discovery

The Zika virus could kill cancer cells that cause deadly brain tumours, according to a study.

Zika is notorious for causing brain defects in unborn children by killing off brain cells, leading babies to be born with misshapen heads.

But US researchers found it is possible to use the virus to target tumour cells in adults.

Glioblastoma is the most common form of brain cancer, with patients dying within two years of diagnosis. Its growth is driven by cancerous stem cells that are resistant to chemotherapy and radiation.

Zika virus appears to disrupt foetal brain development by chiefly targeting neural stem and progenitor cells. However the effect on adult brains is less severe and researchers, from Washington University School of Medicine and the University of California found they could ‘leverage' the virus to target only glioblastoma stem cells.

When human glioblastoma stem cells in the lab were exposed to Zika, they were killed. But when the team tested the virus on normal brain cells it did not infect them, said the findings in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.